Reflections on the SERT experience

SERT is a research initiative, of course, but we’re a team first. And one of the primary outcomes of SERT is its impact on the student researchers themselves. Part research methods seminar, part experiential learning program, part literacy and graduate school prep experience – SERT is what the students make it and what we learn about ourselves along the way. We prompt each other to reflect deeply on the experience of participating and co-building the year-long research initiative that SERT is and so here we share some of those insights.

On June 8, 2020 SERT presented our work via webinar to the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS). Watch or listen as we describe our projects, the SERT method, and lessons learned.

SERT has provided me with a number of skills and opportunities. SERT has taught me how to be a strong researcher. SERT has allowed me to care about research and has showed me the power of student voices. Through the exploration of literature I’ve learned the importance of storytelling and the impact stories have on creating change. An important value of SERT is giving back the stories to our participants and not using power to misuse the information they shared with us. Being a part of this team has taught me the importance of ethics and how to treat research participants ethically. Most importantly SERT has allowed me to find my voice and has provided me with the opportunity to use my voice. SERT has informed me of my individual biases and the ways to remove our biases so we can create and participate in conversations. Working with such a diverse group SERT has allowed me to grow and understand the lived experiences of others and provided me with the opportunity to listen to those experiences. Due to my experience on SERT I plan on continuing in the field of research and attending graduate school. SERT has strengthened my researching skills and I have the intention of taking the skills and knowledge I learned by being a part of this team to further develop my education and understanding of the world.

Vanessa henry, SERT 2018-2019
SERT 2018-2019, the inaugural team, presents our research gallery at the ARTeries Undergraduate Research Conference in March 2019. From left to right: Matthew Tulloch, Emkay Adjei-Manu, Tesni Ellis, Alicia Churilla, Zinab Bakroun, Ryan Mawdsley, Vanessa Henry, and John Hannah

SERT has lead me to appreciate process; in the beginning we had many deep discussions about arts based research, the student experience, and more. While it allowed me to become close to my fellow researchers, the process also reassured me that we were prepared and understood our research environment fully. I was eager to begin the research, but the preparation made SERT a part of my personal identity first; it was almost like we created a preliminary thesis about SERT before the actual focus groups. The group I have the pleasure of being apart of is wide spread in interests and capabilities. We all come from different faculties and different background histories – all united in our goal of wanting to better the student experience for our peers and students to come. The most rewarding parts have been our meetings together, learning from each other and having deeply intense conversations about subjects important to Ryerson and our project.

Alicia Churilla, SERt 2018-2019
In SERT 2.0’s last few sessions, we co-created some reflection activities that were conducted over Zoom. These were designed to allow us to collectively process the SERT experience and share the bittersweetness of saying goodbye. Here is a collection of thoughts that were shared in these sessions. The students bounce between many ideas: thinking about how their conception of research has changed through SERT, what they would have thought of the method if they were participants, and what skills they will be taking with them into the world after SERT. In this compilation you will also get a sense of the SERT process, including the use of drawings to develop complex feelings and the non-judgemental space for discussion. 
SERT 2019-2020: During COVID-19 we couldn’t meet together in person – we completed our project entirely over regular zoom calls. In our team photo from our last meeting “together” (a beach theme to try and have some fun) we have, from top left corner moving across: John Hannah, Tesni Ellis, MJ Wright; In the middle row from left, Daniel McIntosh, Gillian Webb, Claire Lowenstein; from bottom left, Sara Bakroun, Bilqees Mohamed.

Our main goal is to improve the student experience at Ryerson university and I find it quite ironic that being a part of SERT has done just that for me! Our team is led by two educators who have extensive knowledge and years of experience. They possess certain qualities such as compassion and integrity and inspire me to be a better version of myself each day! During our meetings everyone is given the opportunity to speak and have their voice heard. There have been several instances in my life where I felt the need to modify myself in order to feel accepted but with SERT I feel this sense of belonging. When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift each other. It is also clear to see that our strength as a team is in our diversity and in our uniqueness. There’s tremendous power in a group of people who work together toward a shared goal and our goal is to change the student experience at Ryerson for the better though the use of arts-based research and non-traditional techniques. In the future I know that being a part of SERT will continue to help me grow and acquire the skills I need to develop my career.

zinab bakroun, sert 2018-2019

My experience at SERT has and will be more than just a job. It has allowed me to expand the way I conceptualize collaboration because the basis of our work has been a collaboration of many sort. For starters, arts-based research is a collaboration in and of itself. Learning about the ways in which art can be used as a valid tool of inquiry of self and our experience throughout the world has been validating to myself as someone who is both deeply passionate about art-based mediums such as photography and writing, as well as research and policy. Collaborating with one another as a team has also been exciting and bouncing ideas of once another has been nourishing to my growth as a student researcher.

Emkay adjei-manu, sert 2018-2019

The 2019-20 school year generally was full of experiences that re-enforced for me just how important being a part of a loving community is. SERT is one community that grew over this year, and also a space where I learned more, through our conversations and our research, about the importance of community and relationships, especially when we live in a world that teaches us to prioritize ourselves above all else. The quarantine could have turned out to be one of the most hopeless periods of my life. However, even though we’re apart physically, SERT’s weekly Zoom calls gives me a feeling of connection, all of us working towards a shared purpose. The community of SERT fills me with so much life, and a life that is building towards something instead of stagnating, contrasting with how I’ve felt so profoundly at other points in my life.

MJ Wright